Photo by Lee Choo

VITA students volunteers getting ready to offer free tax preparation assistance to low-income individuals and families.

The calendar may say January, but before you know it, April will be here and your taxes will be due. California State University, Northridge business students hope to take a little bit of the sting out of tax day by offering free tax preparation assistance to members of the public.

CSUN’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Clinic is offering free assistance with state and federal tax preparation to low-income families and individuals — including veterans, non-English speakers, senior citizens and persons with disabilities — beginning Jan. 23 through April 15 at locations throughout the San Fernando Valley.

“Many low-income households cannot afford to pay a tax professional to prepare their income-tax return,” said accounting professor Rafi Efrat, CSUN’s Bookstein Chair in Taxation and director of the university’s Institute for Higher Education in Taxation. “This often means that they will do it themselves or have a family member or friend do it, and may miss important tax deductions and credits that could put more money back into their pockets.

“Our goal here is to dramatically increase the number of individuals and families in the San Fernando Valley who receive no-cost tax preparation assistance and who access the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program — the nation’s largest and most powerful federal aid program for the working poor,” Efrat said.

For a list of CSUN VITA locations — including sites in Panorama City, Sylmar, Pacoima, Sun Valley, San Fernando, Van Nuys and Canoga Park, as well as on campus — and the dates and times students will be available to prepare tax forms, visit VITA’s website at http://www.csun.edu/bookstein-institute/csun-vita-clinic.

Recognizing the increasing demand for VITA’s services, Efrat said the CSUN program has expanded the period it offers free tax preparation assistance from about seven weeks to 11 weeks. It also has expanded its hours of operation on the CSUN campus from eight hours per week to 44 hours per week.

“With the expanded capacity, we plan to increase the number of taxpayers we serve from 350 in 2015 to more than 1,800 this year,” Efrat said.

While the CSUN VITA Clinic welcomes walk-ins, taxpayers are strongly encouraged to make an appointment through the VITA website.

In addition, Efrat said, VITA student volunteers are working with their colleagues in the university’s Department of Finance, Financial Planning and Insurance and the Consumer Affairs Program in CSUN’s Department of Family and Consumer Sciences to offer eligible taxpayers free financial planning consultations.

“We believe there is a significant unmet need in the San Fernando Valley for high-quality, cost-free tax preparation services,” Efrat said. “Powered with more than 300 IRS Tax Law Certified student volunteers here on campus and in seven locations in the San Fernando Valley, the CSUN VITA Clinic is ready to serve many more eligible taxpayers in our community. We are excited to offer this important service.”

Due to the large volume of individuals who require assistance, the maximum gross income limitation per tax return has been set at $54,000. Those seeking assistance must bring Social Security cards or Individual Taxpayer Identification notices (ITIN) or cards for themselves, their spouse and/or dependents.

VITA does not prepare tax returns for people with complicated capital gains and losses, a minor’s investment income, a request for a Social Security number, a request to determine a worker’s status for purposes of federal employment taxes and income tax withholding, a non-deductible IRA, small-business owners with losses, ITIN applications, active members of the military and married taxpayers filing separate returns.

Almost 300 CSUN student volunteers completed intensive training on handling federal and state tax returns. In addition to providing service to the community, the CSUN VITA Clinic also gives students an opportunity to gain knowledge and experience in their field of study.

Launched in 1971, the CSUN VITA Clinic, located in CSUN’s David Nazarian College of Business and Economics, serves as a valuable community partner that is responsive to the culturally diverse San Fernando Valley.

This year, the program has received grants from City National Bank and the U.S. Treasury Department and was awarded a subcontract from the City of Los Angeles through close collaboration with NEW Economics for Women to support its expanded efforts.

For more information about the CSUN VITA Clinic, call (818) 677-3600 or email CSUNVITAClinic@csun.edu.